If you had some how fallen off the planet and missed our game on Fox Soccer Channel this weekend then you missed a crazy one (plus I want a note from your doctor stating why you couldn’t watch). Luckily for those ashamed few and all the other loyal fans, I will completely fill you in.
The stage was set perfectly. Kia McNeil, our new warrior central defender, was returning to her old stomping grounds on no other day but her birthday. Also, unlike most spring/summer days in Atlanta there was no humidity and it was a cool 65 degrees. Lastly, the pitch was immaculate and recently made 3 yds narrower and shorter (a smaller field suits our style). So, we had no excuses not to play the game of our lives. With this is mind, we had every intention to get the victory and then celebrate the W and Kia’s bday in fine fashion.
The start of the game was comfortable and we had our share of the possession. The crowd came in great numbers and were surprisingly raucous. Things were going as planned and then, out of nowhere, disaster struck. The birthday girl was called for a foul as the last defender. The ref reaches into his back pocket and pulls out the dreaded red card. Shocking. Happy birthday Kia.
Kia walks slowly off the field as our players defend her vehemently to the referee. This couldn’t be possible. A red card? In the 12th minute? And with the flash of the card, the game completely changed. We were down to 10 women, on our back foot, and unable to sustain possession. We were chasing the Atlanta players around the field. We knew if we could make it until halftime without giving up a goal Paul would pull the team together in the locker room and restore our sense of belief. We just had to make it………43rd minute….boom, goal Atlanta. Welp, there goes that plan.
The halftime whistle could not have come any sooner and we all shuffle in. We had no choice at that point but to change formations and go at Atlanta. We would attack with force to attempt to get the goal back and then push for the winner. Paul decided to have us play a 3-4-2. Three defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards. We were going for it and every Cheesesteak in the locker room knew if there was a team in the WPS that could come back from a 1-0 deficit with 10 players, it was us. We are the comeback queens. We were not out of this.
This game proved nothing different. We were able to steal the first goal from Estelle Johnsons great anticipation off a Lianne Sanderson free-kick rebound. The comeback was on and we knew that the second goal was not far behind. Instead of banking on the tie, Paul kept us in the attacking formation and urged us forward. We did not come to tie, we came to win and it is this mentality that spurred the winning goal from Laura Del Rio. The last 15 minutes we held on for dear life. Atlanta was throwing everything at us. It was as if we were animals possessed and we did our best to deflect every shot and every pass that came flying into our box.
90 minutes had gone by and we still had three minutes of stoppage time to grind out. Those minutes were filled with Ooohs, aaahs, and gasps from the crowd as we eked out the win. What an amazing feeling that was when the final whistle blew. An entire team victory where every single player contributed in an essential way. We were so proud of ourselves and as Kia walked back out on the field we all dog piled her. We knew this was not the way she had wanted to spend her birthday game and she was near tears talking to the team as she thanked us for pulling out the 3 points.
I have said this before and I will say it again, I am big believer that a team encompasses the character of its coach. Paul could have easily taken the defensive approach and told us to bunker in and prevent Atlanta from scoring again. He could have easily given up because being a man and a goal down is not an easy thing to overcome, but, what Paul did in the face of adversity, is quite simply exhilarating.
He believed in the fortitude of his players and so we began to believe that winning is the only option. Forget the fact we had one less player, we were completely capable of still winning this game. This credo spread like wildfire through the team and soon enough we were all prepared to accept nothing but a victory.
It is no coincidence that we have come from behind so many times (2-0 down even) and will come from behind so many more times this season. It it because we have the organzational environment where good is just not good enough. We fight, for everything, and we expect greatness at all levels. There is no mediocrity. Regardless if we have 11 players, 10, 9, or 8, the Cheesesteak standard never drops and when we walked off that field at Kennesaw State University we all knew we had accomplished something special. More importantly, we could add 3 points to our league standing.
So, there you have it. The behind the scenes look. Thanks to all of those who watched and thank you again to those who have sent nice messages. In all honesty, the fans are monumental to our success and to know you are behind those TV screens cheering us on means the world to us.
Two wins in a row. Let’s make it three. Off to Boston this weekend to keep on rolling, hopefully red card free.